WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services for victims of human trafficking cannot be imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, a federal judge has ruled. By delegating to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops the decision on which services to offer or not offer to trafficking victims, HHS violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, Judge Richard G. Stearns ruled March 23 in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court in Massachusetts. A USCCB spokeswoman called the ruling a disappointment March 26. "The decision seems to ignore the right of free expression of one's religious beliefs," said Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, USCCB director of media relations. "It's very likely that we would appeal.” The ACLU filed the lawsuit in 2009 after learning that HHS officials allowed the USCCB, through its Migration and Refugee Services department, to limit the scope of case management services provided under a five-year contract to assist trafficking victims. First signed in 2006, the contract permitted the USCCB to restrict offering specific reproductive health services --- such as abortion, providing contraceptives and sterilization --- on religious grounds even though the government's original request for proposals to administer the program did not impose any such restrictions. Stearns agreed with the ACLU's contention that HHS violated its constitutional obligations by delegating discretion to the USCCB on which services would or would not be provided to trafficking victims.
Cuban dissidents attend Mass, hold protest, day before pope's arrival
HAVANA (CNS) --- The eyes and the prayers of parishioners in Havana's St. Rita of Cascia Church were focused on the 19 catechumens who will be baptized at Easter. Only the large group of reporters was fixated on the 35 women dressed all in white sitting near the front. But after the Mass March 25, while parishioners visited with each other and with their pastor, the Ladies in White --- the "Damas de Blanco" --- recited the Hail Mary in the back of the church, and then began their weekly protest march along the main street outside. The women's weekly walk began nine years ago as a way to call attention to the imprisonment of their husbands, sons or brothers. The last of the prisoners were released last spring in an agreement negotiated by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino. The women have kept walking to and from the church each Sunday because, they said, even though their loved ones have been released, most of them are not free of government repression, and Cuba continues to arrest dissidents. Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation, said in a statement March 25 that at least 70 "peaceful dissidents," including 15 Ladies in White, had been detained in the previous four days as part of a crackdown before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives in Cuba March 26. Jacqueline Boni Echevarria, dressed in white and carrying a light orange gladiolus, said, "We come every Sunday. We struggle for freedom." She said her son had been arrested for "having an idea different than the government's."
Father Maciel's legacy, good and bad, lives on in Mexico
LEON, Mexico (CNS) --- Priests from the Legionaries of Christ celebrate Mass every Sunday at the cathedral in this conservative Catholic city, which Pope Benedict XVI visited March 23-26. Youths belonging to the Legionaries' lay movement, Regnum Christi, planned to participate in welcoming the pope to Mexico and volunteer at the papal Mass in neighboring Silao. Businessmen who donated heavily to Legionaries' schools for children in impoverished barrios also attended the Mass. Absent from the papal itinerary in Guanajuato state: victims abused by the founder of the Legionaries, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. Father Maciel died in 2008, having been told by Pope Benedict to stop practicing his ministry in public and live a life of prayer and penance. The order he founded in 1941 was placed under new leadership by the Vatican in 2010 after an apostolic visitation. It was to be founded anew with a different charism, in repudiation of Father Maciel and his life's work, which is marred by accusations of him sexually abusing seminarians and fathering children. The priest's legacy and influence lives on in Mexico, serving as reminders of the church's shortcomings dealing with the victims of predatory priests and its seeming unwillingness to denounce an enduring culture of entitlement, impunity and privilege in the economic elite that Father Maciel courted. Victims of the Mexican priest attempted to make their voices heard during the papal visit, which came as the Legionaries of Christ are going through a period of organizational uncertainty and profound public skepticism. "We love our church," Jose Barba, professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and an early accuser of Father Maciel, told Catholic News Service in a brief email March 23.
Philadelphia ex-priest admits abuse; lawsuits settled, filed
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) --- As two of his former colleagues prepared to face trial on abuse-related charges, a former priest of the Philadelphia Archdiocese was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison March 22 after pleading guilty to conspiracy and sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy. Edward V. Avery, 69, who was removed from the priesthood in 2006, admitted in an appearance before Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that he was guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in the 1999 assault. He also said he conspired with co-defendant Msgr. William J. Lynn, then secretary for clergy in the archdiocese, to endanger children. Msgr. Lynn, who is not charged with any sexual wrongdoing, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and endangering children. Another co-defendant, Father James J. Brennan, is accused of raping a boy in 1996 and has also pleaded not guilty. Their trial began March 26.